Thanks to all of you who recommended places to go for "Supper" barbecue. I'm about halfway through my four-week stay in Austin (or, I was when I started this report), and I thought I'd put together a not-so-quick rundown of where I've been so far, and my thoughts about each of the places. Some are "the usual suspects", but I also just kind of sniffed some of the places out - saw them by the side of the road, saw them pop up on my GPS or Google maps and just thought I'd give them a try.
Monday - 3/5 - Texas Rib Kings
I had been there once before later in the evening, and it was okay, but wanted to see if the barbecue was better earlier in the day. I had the brisket sandwich lunch deal - sandwich, side, and drink for $6.00. Good deal on a really good brisket sandwich - although the corn I chose as a side was completely tasteless - I'm sure other sides were better. I asked for "burnt" brisket, and got some nice end slices, roughly chopped. Very good brisket - nice and tender.
Wednesday - 3/7 - Stiles Switch
After all the talk this pace has gotten on Chowhound, I was really looking forward to it. I ordered a quarter-pound of burnt brisket, a link of the "hot" sausage, and a beef rib. The brisket was very good - nicely spiced, and moderately smoky - very tender, but with a little chew to the crust. The sausage was good - nothing too exciting, but tasty sausage. But the beef rib - wow - I think someone had mentioned that a single beef rib was about $5. I think that's about what mine ended up being - the single rib was almost a half-pound - a good inch of meat on three sides of the bone. When the cutter cut off the rib, I noticed him looking carefully at it. It had a stripe of fat on one side, and I think he was checking to see if it was mostly fat, but as far as I can tell, it was the exact right amount of fat - just a thin layer. Man - what a tasty piece of beef. Definitely among the better pieces of barbecue I've had in Texas so far.
I'm also not normally that excited by the standard sides at barbecue places - slaw, potato salad, beans - do nothing for me. But, I had the corn casserole at Stiles Switch, and it was very tasty - like slightly sweetened cornbread pudding with whole kernel corn and cheese added. Highly recommended.
Friday - 3/9 - Mann's Smokehouse - Brisket, Beef Rib
I went to Mann's Smokehouse on Friday for lunch. Turns out Friday is a good day to go. First, they have "fried" sides in addition to the standard ones - french fries, onion rings - I think I even saw that they had fried green tomatoes? I had a brisket plate with fries and a cornbread stick, and a beef rib on the side. The brisket was good, although not as good as Stiles Switch, and the beef rib, while okay-tasting, looked like it came off a completely different animal than the one at Stiles Switch. While I'd guess the SS rib was at least 2/3 meat by weight, the Mann's rib was probably between 1/3 to 1/2 meat by weight. It was appropriately priced, though - probably only $1.50 or $2, and was good for the price, I guess.
The cornbread stick was good, too - tender, just barely sweetened. Also, on Friday, they give out free home-made ice cream "until it runs out" (that's what the sign says). The ice cream I had was strawberry - with real strawberries in it. I may have to go back this Friday just for the ice cream.
Saturday - 3/10 - Black's Barbecue
I got there early on Saturday, and ordered some brisket - burnt again - and a link of the garlic sausage. Got some nice slices of just-the-right-amount-of-fatty brisket, with a very tasty bark - very tender. I asked the meatcutters for a recommendation on what kind of sausage to get, and they offered me samples, but I only tried one - once I tasted the garlic sausage, I knew tht was the one I wanted. According to the meat guy, it was an 80/20 beef/pork mix, and I think it was the best sausage I've had here (or maybe I was just really in the mood for garlic). Nice smokiness, but not so much that it overpowered the sausage and garlic, and a good snap to the skin.
Saturday - 3/10 - Luling City Market
I stopped at Black's on the way down to Luling. Nice little town. They had a chili cookoff going on, and I would have loved to stay, but it wasn't nearly time to sample the chili, and it was raining off an on, and cold. So, I settled in at City Market for some burnt brisket and a few pork ribs. The brisket was good, but I don't think it was as good as Black's (with the caveat, of course, well-known to barbecue eaters, that this was one day, one particular brisket at each place, your results may vary). It was good brisket, just a little tougher than Black's - it was a single slice off the end - Black's and others had sliced off smaller, thinner pieces - might have made the difference. But the ribs were _very_ good. There was very little "crust" - and I think the rub they used was very simple - with just a bit of sweetness that accentuates the taste of the pork, but they were very meaty, very tender, nicely smoky - oak, I believe, I'm getting used to oak - really lets the meat flavor come through.
Tuesday - 3/13 - Uncle Billy's
I went here based on a recommendation - with the caveat that the view is the important thing (it sits high above Lake Travis - nice view), but the barbecue is edible. You know if there's not a big stack of wood out back, and a plume of smoke coming out of the building, that it's probably not going to be great, but the beer was supposed to be good. I had the "Redneck Roadkill" - house-made, thick-cut potato chips served nacho-style with chopped brisket on top - and a few pork ribs on the side. As expected, the food was okay - it would suffice when drinking and watching the sunset, but definitely not worth the drive just for the barbecue.
Wednesday - 3/14 - Johnny T's
I drove by this one on my way back from Uncle Billy's, and made a note to look into it, and decided to go there for dinner the next day. It's in Round Rock - just west of 35 on 620. I ordered a 2-meat plate - brisket and ribs. They had an interesting selection of sides, including a spicy apple slaw - shredded apples and carrots, with chopped dried cranberries, and a "spicy" vinegar sauce. It wasn't very spicy, but it was good - went great with the pork. The brisket and ribs were both serviceable - tender (ribs maybe a little too fall-off-the-bone for me), and moist. It may not be worth an hour's drive, but I do recommend it if you're in the area - give it a try.
Thursday - 3/15 - Ray's Bar-B-Q
I was looking for somewhere to stop on the way to the airport, and searched for "barbecue" (and bbq, and bar-b-q) on my GPS, and Ray's popped up. It's only a few miles from the airport. It's a very small place, but they had a $5 lunch special - sandwich, chips, and a drink for $5. I believe the sandwich deal changes daily, and, I also believe, the "deal" sandwich is not as big as the normal sandwich on the menu, but it was a deal for $5, and the brisket was good. I was still a little hungry, so I ordered a sausage sandwich separately (which was bigger), and it was also good. Once again, not worth a long drive, but if you're on the south side of town, look them up.
Part 2 coming later...